Football: O'Leary confronts his mentor

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The Independent Online
WHILE RECENT events have underlined the high profile accorded to football managers, the FA Cup has largely remained the province of the players, from the butchers, bakers and candlestick makers who enliven the early rounds to the Roberto Di Matteos and Nicholas Anelkas who win the finals.

This weekend is different. In Manchester tomorrow and Leeds today the cameras will be trained on the dug-out almost as often as the pitch.

At Elland Road, George Graham and David O'Leary will be in opposition six years after they won the FA Cup as manager and player respectively for Arsenal. Graham moved across north London to Tottenham but he did so via Leeds where O'Leary, building on his and Howard Wilkinson's work, now has one of the most exciting young teams in the country. Today they face a Spurs side who have become as difficult to beat as they are to watch. On the last two occasions these teams met in the Cup the victors (Leeds in 1972, Spurs a decade later), went on to win it. It could happen again.

Tomorrow the attention, including that of the Football Association, moves to Old Trafford, where the preferred candidates for the post of England coach will be in opposition. Alex Ferguson now seems to be out of the running, but the FA have not given up on Kevin Keegan and might be hoping for a home win.

The match was already intriguing. It should be no contest but Fulham, one of two teams left in the competition whose name is not engraved on the Cup, have beaten Southampton and Aston Villa. They lead the Second Division and, having spent more than pounds 10m on players, have a pedigree way above their status.

For Kit Symons, their former Manchester City defender, it will be a chance to put right an injustice from 1996 when City, then still in the Premiership, were knocked out of the Cup at this stage by United through an extremely dubious penalty. United went on to win the trophy.

It will be a day of mixed memories for Andy Cole. Under Keegan he established his reputation with Newcastle but, earlier in his career, he had an unhappy loan period with Fulham, scoring four times in 15 games. "I had a terrible time," he said. "I couldn't put the ball in the net no matter what I did."

At Highbury today Sheffield United are hoping to repeat their shock defeat of Arsenal in the Cup three years ago, since when the Gunners have lost once in 14 FA Cup ties. Bizarrely, the holders have not won a tie at Highbury for six years. United, who reached the semi-final last year, will be backed by 5,300 travelling fans, most bearing balloons provided by the club's board of directors - an appropriate gift, given the amount of hot air in most boardrooms.

Arsenal will be without the suspended Emmanuel Petit plus Lee Dixon, Martin Keown, and Tony Adams, all of whom were injured during Wednesday's international between England and France, which featured seven of their players. With others, including Dennis Bergkamp, having been involved in internationals elsewhere in Europe, the Gunners could be leg-weary. They may also have an eye on next week's critical trip to Old Trafford.

At the McAlpine Stadium Derby, having won at Plymouth and Swansea, have to negotiate another potential banana skin in Huddersfield. Surprisingly the two sides have never met in the FA Cup; less unexpectedly their solitary triumphs date back to 1922 and 1946 respectively.

If the giantkilling attempts fail, at least one non-Premiership side will be in the sixth round: the winner of Barnsley's tie with Bristol Rovers. Second Division Rovers, the only team left in the competition not to have played in a final, have only reached the sixth round twice, in 1951 and 1958. Their attack will be led by Jason Roberts, the competition's equal leading scorer with six goals and a nephew of Cyrille Regis.

Barnsley, who knocked out Manchester United at this stage last season, will fancy their chances against a Rovers side which does not travel well and reached this stage by beating three Third Division clubs and a non- league side.

Besides the tie at Leeds there are three other all-Premiership matches. At Hillsborough, current form suggests the one Italian of Sheffield Wednesday, Benito Carbone, could upset Chelsea's trio, especially if the Blues also suffer a hangover from midweek international action.

At Goodison Everton seek their fifth home goal of the season against a Coventry side who tend to do well against them.

Tomorrow at Ewood Park, Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United renew acquaintance. They already met in the Worthington Cup this season, Blackburn winning on penalties, and the match should feature a quartet of players who have traded places - Alan Shearer and Shay Given of Newcastle, and Darren Peacock and Keith Gillespie of Rovers.

The two sides have something else in common too, an FA Cup history of faded grandeur. Each have won six times but Newcastle have not done so since 1955 while Blackburn have to look back to 1928. Both will be dreaming this morning but one, at least, will have to wait a little longer.